Restaurant Reviews: New Too | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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Restaurant Reviews: New Too

Ten more recent openings

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Restaurant listings are culled from the Reader Restaurant Finder, an online database of more than 4,000 Chicago-area restaurants. Restaurants are reviewed by staff, contributors, and (where noted) individual Reader Restaurant Raters. Though reviewers try to reflect the Raters' input, reviews should be considered one person's opinion; the Raters' collective opinions are best expressed in the numbers. Complete searchable listings, Raters' comments, and information on how to become a Rater are at chicagoreader.com/restaurantfinder.

New Too

Briejo211 Harrison, Oak Park | 708-848-2743

$$$American Contemporary/Regional | dinner: seven days | sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Peripatetic Jody Andre (Tomboy, Speakeasy, the Room) has abandoned the north side for the west, and her cozy new Briejo been bustling since it opened in November. But while Andre may owe some of her success to an almost total lack of competition, there's also the eclectic, reasonably priced menu and the owner's boisterous hospitality. As we dithered over the wine list, Andre crouched tableside, asked a few pointed questions, then loped over to the bar, returning with samples from a range of spot-on bottles. (And the glasses that followed were margin-bustingly huge.) The room reflects her unpretentious approach—the small, rough-hewn space is warmed up with panels of saffron and persimmon gauze; tables are topped with brown paper. The menu's all over the place: a little French here, a little American there, global comfort food everywhere. Fried artichokes with soy-ginger aioli were salty, gussied up bar bites, but another appetizer of truffled scallop with crispy fried leeks was sublime, the hefty bivalve rich and rare under a crispy seared skin. A plate of spice-encrusted roast chicken hid almost fork-tender meat under a similarly satisfying crunchy skin. And the braised short ribs were almost too much, heaped over a pile of unctuous mashed potatoes and served with a ramekin of au jus just in case you wanted to layer on even more rich, dense flavor. But on a cold January night the warm food and warmer welcome more than made up for any such quibbles. —Martha Bayne

Cafe Senegal2131 W. Howard | 773-465-5643

$African | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Cash only

Owned by brother and sister Boubacar and Diaw Sow, Cafe Senegal is look-close-or-you'll-miss-it small, tastefully done up in vibrant tropical colors with tablecloth designs echoing an African theme. When they owned the grocery a few doors down, the Sows dished out West African specialties along with hometown favorites like gyros and Italian beef. In their new place, it's all about the cuisine of Senegal, where Diaw learned to cook from her mother and aunts. Food here is 100 percent zabiha halal. Ceebu jen is red snapper on tomato rice, delicately stewed with laid-back seasonings; sup kanja is described as an "okra sauce" but it's more complex, with chunks of lamb, dried fish, and smoked turkey. Senegal is known as the peanut capital of the world, and the legume is prominent in mafe yapp, traditional peanut butter stew, and dakhine, lamb and beans in a peanut sauce. Served as dessert (though probably excellent at breakfast), thiakhri is yogurt and couscous with raisins, and cools the palate after hot sauces that are served with meat pasties Boubacar says are neighborhood faves. Diaw makes her own sugary sorrel and flu-season-appropriate ginger beverages, and soon she'll be serving omelets and baguettes on a Frenchified breakfast menu. —David Hammond

Century Public House1330 W. Morse | 773-654-5100

$$$American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2; Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday till midnight

A pricey, perfunctory brunch at this contemporary American gastropub had me procrastinating about going back, but in retrospect I should have known not to make judgments based on that meal: I really liked dinner here. The menu focuses on locally and sustainably grown ingredients, and as such is on the expensive side, with entrees from the high teens. But roast chicken was delectably moist and flavorful, as were the cubed root vegetables that accompanied it, and a smoked trout Caesar is a brilliant innovation. House-made sausages and liverwurst are irresistible, and the beer selection's terrific, especially for the neighborhood. Clearly as much care as went into the rehab of this space and the performance space above it—the venue is LEED certified—is going into the food. I just hope the neighborhood follows suit; the dining room often appears to be empty. —Kate Schmidt

The Counter670 W. Diversey | 773-935-1995

$Burgers, Ice Cream | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

There must be some latent anti-west-coast bias in me that had me smirking at the idea of a bunless "burger bowl," what the folks behind this exploding Santa Monica burger chain call what is essentially a burger salad. But the two I sampled, belonging to a pair of carb-conscious but pleasure-loving eaters, were really tasty. And that's the thing—if the natural beef patties here are as consistently seasoned and cooked to order as the ones I've tried, then a bad burger here can really only be blamed on the decisions of the customer, not the kitchen. But building a burger from a clipboard list of options—with more than 300,000 possible combinations—is a daunting proposition, and the potential for crimes against nature is enormous. It's possible, for instance, to order a one-pound veggie burger with Danish blue cheese, hard-boiled eggs, grilled pineapple, corn-and-black-bean salsa, carrot strings, honey-cured bacon, and peanut sauce on an English muffin. However, if you feel incapable of wielding that power responsibly, the house Counter burger—with provolone, lettuce, tomato, fried onions, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette—is an excessive and reliably good default. —Mike Sula

French African Restaurant le Conakry2049 W. Howard | 773-262-6955

$$African | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Cash only| BYO

Before ordering at Le Conakry, it's best to ask the chef what's available; the "temporary menu"—multinational and ambitious—is merely a rough guide to what's actually going on in the kitchen. On most nights offerings are limited, and less common preparations—like dishes with atieke, an Ivory Coast couscous and manioc paste—require advance notice. Though the restaurant boasts a "natural and organic" menu, a Goya vegetable can sitting on the cutting board suggested the probable provenance of some produce, but no matter. This chow would surely qualify as West African comfort food: conservatively seasoned, dense with stomach-satisfying carbs, it's soft and goes down easy. Chicken and fish yassa, Senegalese favorites, come dotted with griddled onion and olives. A traditional Guinean stew of cassava leaves, probably the most veggie-heavy dish on the menu, is funked up with fermented shrimp paste. The folks here are genial and welcoming, mitigating the somewhat spartan surroundings of the restaurant, which seems to function as a kind of West African emigre community center, with Internet access provided. This food travels well; consider take-out. —David Hammond

Monticchio4882 N. Clark | 773-275-7080

$$Italian | Lunch: Saturday-Sunday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Saturday till 1; Sunday, Tuesday-Friday till midnight

You could surmise that this new "pizza pub," housed on the ground floor of a hideous condo building erected on the ruins of the Rainbo Roller Rink, with a commanding view of Saint Boniface Cemetery, is tempting fate with such potentially cursed digs. Or you could simply wonder whether there are enough potential regulars in the immediate area unwilling to travel a bit farther north to patronize more serious pie makers such as Great Lake and Antica Pizzeria. The hand-pulled Neopolitan-style pizzas available here can't touch Antica's or Ravenswood's Spacca Napoli—they aren't fired hot enough, nor is the crust rendered with any sort of finesse. The alternative option—so called "classic" square-cut thin-crust pizza—is available with the usual uninspired toppings, fine enough if all you care to do is have something to soak up the liquor. A small selections of pastas (avoid the gluey gnocchi), mostly deep-fried antipasti (ditto the dry, bland arancini), salads, panini, and house-made desserts fill out the menu. —Mike Sula

Sanook2845 W. Irving Park | 773-463-7299

$Asian, Thai, Japanese | Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: seven days | BYO

Latest in a microtrend of Thai-owned Thai/Japanese, this restaurant features a prominently placed itamae kicking out specialty rolls to a mild Muzak techno beat. Friendly, efficient waitstaff, Holiday Inn-worthy Asian themed art, and well-priced lunch specials with the option of egg rolls insure its broad appeal. We passed on the $15 Big Ben signature maki for the $8 Mexican and after a couple of loosely packed rings thought of calling the INS to have it deported: no promised jalapeño heat, scant avocado, and barely a pencil-width of yellowtail running its eight-inch length. Magura nigiri fared even worse, as the flavorless, squishy tuna was unmasked by nori and spicy mayo. Bland plum sauce coated spring rolls; dense, sweet chile sauce overwhelmed fried tofu and sticky steamed khanom jeeb (think siu mai), which oddly had a flavor of gefilte fish. Stir-Fry Hell sounded promising but on the plate was punchless, oily ground beef chili mac. Pad kee mao looked good, its rice noodles properly wok charred, but was doomed to mediocrity by its cloying sauce, dry flavorless pork, and underdone broccoli. An exception was the funky fish sauce on some larb nar I had on another visit, which in retrospect seems an anomaly but gives one hope. —Gary Wiviott

Shiso449 W. North | 312-649-1234

$$Asian, Japanese Lunch, dinner: seven days | BYO

The decor at Shiso is cute and modern-looking, the service is good, and that's probably all this Old Town sushi spot needs to succeed—indeed, it was packed with trendy young urbanites the night we were there. Never mind that the goma-ae (steamed spinach with a sesame dressing) was still frozen in the middle, the gyoza were mushy and didn't taste homemade, and the salmon sashimi lacked flavor. Mayonnaise features prominently in most of the specialty maki and, along with the cream cheese, overwhelmed the "giant" roll, although the "crazy crump" maki (one of the few served sans mayo) wasn't bad. A spicy tuna tempura appetizer, though uninspired, ended up being one of the best things we had. And shiso, an herb common in Japanese cooking, was remarkably absent from the extensive menu. Our waitress looked confused when we asked if anything had shiso in it and finally explained that they just use it as garnish on the plates. It didn't appear on ours, however. —Julia Thiel

Sortie Lounge1212 N. State | 312-440-5100

$$$Mediterranean | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday

Looking for a quiet place to dine? On a weeknight in January, three-month-old Sortie Lounge was empty; the waiter said it filled up on weekends, but a swing by on a Saturday evening revealed no crowds. But being able to hear the Turkish background music while dining was a pleasure, and the new chef has talent. Since we were told he was revising the menu, we forgave the many discrepancies between the eight items on the "mix appetizer" and the six we got in individual hollowed-out yellow squash and cucumber cups; they included good eggplant salad, thick yogurt with vegetables and mint, and mercimek kofte, cold lentils often served shaped into "fingers." The lahmacun, a Turkish variation on thin-crust pizza topped with minced lamb, peppers, and tomato, was first-rate, though it was cut into American-style wedges, making it impossible to roll or fold it around greens and onions with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sumac like the Turks do; anyway, we didn't get any onions or sumac. The mixed grill provided a sampling of decent lamb and chicken kebabs, comparatively mild adana kebab (chopped, seasoned lamb and beef), tasty lamb-and-beef doner (like gyros), and a small lamb chop plus rice, grilled tomato and peppers, and fancy-cut baby vegetables. Fingernail-size manti got high marks for delicacy, but the yogurt cooled the beef-stuffed dumplings too quickly and needed more, hotter butter drizzled around it, as well as the tomato sauce listed on the menu, which was missing. Creamy rice pudding with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream was a fine dessert, but the Turkish coffee was muddy. No vintages were listed on the mostly American wine list with adequate by-the-glass options. Turkish beer and raki were available, but no Turkish wines. —Anne Spiselman

Taami Restaurant2931 W. Touhy | 773-465-6600

$$Middle Eastern, Kosher/Jewish/Deli | Lunch: Sunday-Thursday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday till 2, Saturday till 1, Sunday-Thursday till 11 | BYO

I had one excellent Moroccan eggplant salad at this relatively new kosher establishment on a sleepy stretch of Touhy. But these soft chunks of cumin-spiced vegetable were a violent contrast to what followed: hummus with an overabundance of tahini; a stringy, stingily-sized schnitzel; dry, overworked grilled meats; limp underfried fries; and a molded pile of corn and peppers that looked like it was dumped perfectly formed from the can. This place might be of some use to its immediate, largely Orthodox neighborhood but I can't imagine anyone more than a few blocks away preferring it to the vastly superior Taboun Grill. As at Taboun, prices are steep compared to nonkosher Middle Eastern joints. There it's understandable; here it's a slap in the face. —Mike Sula

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